Thursday, December 20, 2012

Safety Nets Of The Runner

When was the last time you read or heard a runner, when counting down the days, hours and minutes before the start of a race, declaring that he's fully trained and prepared for the challenge? I bet if you did, it must have been ages ago. But I would venture that it's probably likelier that you haven't met such a runner yet up to now.

Since I started running seriously in late 2008, I've met many, many runners of different colours, sizes, and racial and family backgrounds. And on many occasions, I've had the opportunities to mingle with them in the days leading to the races that they've signed up for. Or otherwise, I've also had glimpses of their thoughts through their facebook posts, or blogs. I've noticed a curious tendency in almost all of them—they almost always have a mechanical paragraph specially dedicated for safety nets.

The safety nets I speak of come in many sizes, shapes and forms. But after seeing so many over the years, there is a sense of monotone—most of them have begun to look the same to me. It is almost like these “safety net” paragraphs are an expected ingredient of the race reports!

Don't get me wrong, though; I'm not immune from that tendency too! And since my next race is the Vibram HK 100 in the third week of January next year, I thought I might as well take the opportunity to fill up the gap between race reports with this article about safety nets. As I said, there are many types, but I will just mention three of the more popular ones here.

The Injury Safety Nets

This is intended to inform the readers that the runner is carrying an injury going into the race. Or at the very least, he has just recovered from an injury which has prevented him to train properly throughout the months or weeks prior to the race. If it's not injuries, then it will be other types of illnesses somehow.

The Insufficient-Training Safety Nets

This is intended to emphasize the fact that the runner, despite free from injuries, did not have the time to train properly. This could be due to job and family commitments, and unfavourable weather conditions. Others may also offer other excuses such as lack of mood to train. But it all boils down to arriving at the starting line without the necessary training for the race.

The Run-For-Fun Safety Nets

Of course the most popular of them all is the ultimate fool-proof defence that is not to be gainsaid. This is when the runner has a secret wish to do well—perhaps even trying to achieve a personal best—but declares that he's just running for fun “just to finish the race”. I have a shrewd suspicion that the majority of runners, whether new or seasoned, fall within this category.

The inevitable question is: Why do we do that; why do we automatically, perhaps subconsciously, provide for these safety nets at all?

I'm convinced that for most runners, there is that peculiar feeling of unpreparedness no matter how prepared they are! I'm sure there are many, many reasons out there, but I can only speak for myself.

Well, I have two main reasons; and they are connected to one another. Firstly, I have come to a stage where people expect me to keep achieving greater achievements in every race that I join. Maybe it has a lot to do with my own obsession in trying so hard to improve myself in each race; and people have come to see a kind of “trend” in my results over the years. So subconsciously I feel there is a need to remind these people that I'm no longer a budding athlete; rather a runner approaching the twilight of his life!

Secondly, I lay out the safety nets because I don't want to put pressure upon myself and then get all stressed up even before the race! The burden of self-expectation can be quite overwhelming, you know! Having said that, however, I always make it a point to try my very best in almost all of my races, in spite of all those safety nets; unless of course if I had planned to treat an event as a training workout from the beginning.

Without much hope of getting any response from my readers, I'm inviting you to share what are your reasons for the safety nets. I would really love to know.


Khadeeja Shah said...

Usually I think up of my safety nets halfway thru the race. Or when my mojo just doesn't come at km5.

And I'm pretty good at this, save some that I've overused haha.

But the reason why have safety nets? Because I'm always trying to meet people's expectations. Not too much about unpreparedness for me. I always get to the starting line all gungho haha

Last week I ran Malakoff and while doing the last hill, I was at pace with a runner who was pretty much struggling. I threw my safety net (without being asked)...saying it was just a fun run for me and didn't matter much...

She replied, "this is my first race, so I'll just try my best"

Reminder: sometimes our safety nets may affect people. I'll use it sparingly

Unknown said...

Hey Cornelius

Psychologically this is actually a defense mechanism to protect our own ego. Don't get me wrong: ego is not a bad thing. Technically it's how we balance between the primitive needs (greed, lust, etc.) and our moral obligations, which in turn presented as our very own ego.

Rationalising and justifying is actually a defense mechanism, be it consciously or subconsciously, to protect our ego from being challenged. In this case, the expectations from one's peers might cause one to issue a 'disclaimer': by issuing such statements, in the case he/she can't perform as expected, at least he/she will have a 'valid reason' for the slip-up.

Personally not only I use this for running; I use it partly as a psychological tactic. Issuing such 'disclaimer' would lower one's expectations. So if I fumbled, I performed 'as I expected'. But if I do excel, then it's way better than it appears to.

But most of the time I'll still include some self-degradatory remark, so people won't think that I'm being ignorant or arrogant, like: "I memang slow all these while."

In conclusion, it's the kiasu-ness and our fear of being humiliated. :)

Cornelius said...

Thanks, KD and Juin Yi Ng, for your comments. We have had a bit of other comments on facebook too regarding this topic.

There are slight variations in the responses, but I think it generally boils down to a peculiar fear of failure in meeting expectations - both of others as well as of oneself.

There was once a long spell when I kept trying and and kept failing to run the half marathon in under 2 hours. It was frustrating to say the least, but it was also embarrassing. It took me quite a while to figure out how to break the sub-2hour barrier; it seemed almost impossible for me! I can still remember how my running buddy, Dr Peter, who knew my ability, remarked when I failed yet again after several attempts. He said something like "Can't be!" Exactly the same two words that I said to myself!

It's not really a case of wanting so much to live up to people's expectation, but I'm doing all this mainly for myself! But that is not to say others have no effect on me! In the end, there is that strange pathetic craving for recognition of one's achievement too!

Ultimately, there can never been an end when it comes to what people think of our achievements. Some of them will undoubtedly admire us for conquering the 10km, half marathon, full marathon, 100km ultra marathon. Others may see nothing very special in all those achievements. So the only opinion that really counts in the end is whether one is happy with one's own achievements. Well, so far, I am very happy of what's I've achieved up to now. But let's see if I can go any further.